GOIN DOWN TO FLORIDA REVIEWS
REFLECTIONS IN BLUE REVIEW (May 2015)
Franc Robert and the Boxcar Tourists are a dyed in the wool blues band, whether it be Chicago based, jump blues, Delta style, funky stuff that sounds like it just crawled out of the swamp or even the blues/rock tune they throw in from time to time or whatever the crowd and the situation might call for. Having proved to the blues purists that he can pull it off beautifully just man and guitar, he has gone back to the band format, showing the world that Franc Robert is not a one trick pony. This cat and his band may be based in Florida, but when it comes to the blues, they are citizens of the world. There is no blues style that is off limits…as long as it’s the real deal. Where so many performers are blues/rockers with the emphasis heavily placed on the rock, Franc Robert plays a style of blues that when it delves into the blue/rock arena remains deeply rooted in the blues. Much like what could be heard in jukes and roadhouses throughout the South, this is a music that is easy on the ear, easy to dance to and just plain fun. With Franc on guitars, Sam Mudd on bass, Dave Simmons on percussion, Joe Sadowski on harp, and all members of the band chipping in on vocals with Franc Robert taking the lead, this band has it covered top to bottom and side to side. Once more, all songs on the album were written by the King of the Hoboes himself. This is a legitimate band, playing what they know, and playing from the heart. This is not some overproduced thing that sounds like it came out of a can. With Franc Robert & the Boxcar Tourists what you see and hear is what you get. They’re not putting on airs for anybody. I am a blues lover from as far back as I can remember and then some. I am also a hardass when it comes to blues but I am sold on this band. They are the real deal. Muddy, Sonny Boy, Willie Dixon , Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and the others are gone now and yes, the face of the blues has changed but hearing a band like this gives me hope that the blues may yet survive. – Bill Wilson
RIDE THE IRON ROAD REVIEWS
BLUES UNDERGROUND NETWORK REVIEW
“Ride The Iron Road” marks the second album I have received from Franc Robert with the previous one being his 2012 release “Mulligan Stew” as Franc Robert & the Boxcar Tourists. “Mulligan Stew” was an album that really impressed me a lot, to the point where I even included it in my Blues Underground Network’s Top 10 USA Blues Albums 2012 List, of which some of what I wrote about that album was, “Franc Robert & the Boxcar Tourists are a rare group whom have put together a rare album indeed in “Mulligan Stew”, as this is the kind of great music that does not come around that often. I can only imagine how great it would be to play this album when camping around the campfire, as this one just has that right feel to it that can really warm the soul .” For “Ride The Iron Road”, Franc Robert has again brought us another rare treat, this time without The Boxcar Tourists as he goes Solo with just his great Voice and an equally great assortment of Guitars, which included, a National Style 1 tricone, Slide, a no-name dobro, Martin D-1R, and a 1921 Martin O-18.
“Ride The Iron Road” marks Franc Robert’s first return to his Acoustic side since his 2011 release “Why Do I Never Win”, as he offers up 11 original Tracks and 3 great Covers, “St. James Infirmary”, “Mississippi Blues”, and “Railroad Blues”. Franc Robert covers a fair bit of ground on “Ride The Iron Road”, which could be categorized as Son House Influenced, Modern Blues, and even Blues of a more Humorous nature. When you also include the Traditional three Covers, you can easily see how nicely diversified “Ride The Iron Road” is. Also with it’s diversification, comes it’s Authentic feeling side, brought to the forefront with a more Traditional length to all but one of the albums Tracks, for which the most part, fall in the under three minute category, with the opening Track actually only being 1:33 in length. I find that I really enjoy these types of albums of which the songs quickly get to the point, not relying on a whole bunch of sometimes unnecessary filler.
“Ride The Iron Road” was released April 15, 2014, and it did not take long for it to become noticed, most notably by WEFT 90.1 in Champaign, Illinois, for whom in their April 2014 Top 25 List had the album already pegged at #9 and in good company with the likes of The Holmes Brothers “Brotherhood” and Bob Corritore’s “Taboo” releases, not overly far ahead at #1 and #2.
Franc Robert’s love and knowledge of the Blues, in fact over 30 years of it, has certainly set him apart, especially when dealing with the more authentic Traditional style Blues of which you will notice right away on “Ride The Iron Road”.
Not that I needed a break, in any way, from his previous release, but never the less I sure enjoyed this other side to Franc Robert as I am sure that many others will that really enjoy super Blues done simply super.
“Ride The Iron Road” is an album I highly recommend… It is certainly one of the very best in the Solo Performer Category released, so far, in 2014…
Review by John Vermilyea (Blues Underground Network)
BLUES BLAST MAGAZINE, MAY 29TH, 2014
” Hailing from Florida’s West Coast, Franc Robert offers up 11 original songs and 3 covers in this very traditional acoustic blues album. His finger picking and guitar work are superb. It’s just him and his guitar here as Robert bares it all in this production.
I found the guitar playing to be very solid and well done. His original songs are a breath of fresh air. Good topics, lyrics that are well thought out and, well, lyrical, and well-constructed. There are some very impressive new songs here that are outstanding. Robert also has an interesting approach to his vocals. He is sort of breathy and works at getting an old time, authentic sound. He sings predominantly though his head and one can almost hear his sinuses resonate as he gasps and wails out the lyrics. It’s a little odd at first but it grew on me!
The covers are St. James Infirmary, Mississippi Blues and Railroad Blues. The covers are pretty much straight up renditions of the traditional songs. He infuses his vocal style on all three; his voice begins to sound almost desperate with his breathy and interesting style here on the covers and on the originals. He shows he can play these tunes with the best of them on these covers.
I really preferred the original songs. The opening cut “Honey What’s Wrong” evokes the style of early Delta masters like Son House. He does this song orally, accompanied only with hand claps in a very old and cool style. The slide work on the title track that follows this is a stark contrast to the bare opening number and he plays his heart out. “Chihuahua Blues” is a somewhat humorous take on a song that reminded me of Robert Johnson. The next two cuts “These Low Down Blues” and “Dem Devil Bones”have a much more modern sound (perhaps the 50s and 60’s) have a more modern sound. “Mississippi On My Mind” and “Tax Time Blues” are more traditional; I enjoyed the latter statement on the IRS. “Travellin’ Bluesman” is a little more modernistic but “Treat Me Right” and “Never Felt More Alone” return back to the Delta. The closer, “Sunday Morning,” is a beautiful and inspirational slow finger picking instrumental that is just a joy.
I enjoyed Franc Roberts guitar work and his vocals grew on me after a few listens. He’s working to present his music in an authentic style. He’s written some excellent new songs and I think he’s got something here that acoustic fans will enjoy.”
The last time that Franc Robert showed his acoustic side was on 2011’s well received Why Do I Ever Win. Since then Franc has issued Mulligan Stew in 2012, and now he returns to his acoustic side with Ride The Iron Road, on Blue Chihuahua Records. At 41 minutes Ride The Iron Road shows off 11 originals and three traditional blues cuts.
As an acoustic set, the simplicity of the presentation really adds to the impact of the music, with only Franc and his guitar(s) painting vivid images, as this Florida native is so talented at doing. The sound is clear and unadorned, allowing the music to stand on its own merit. While very satisfying all the way through, we found a few selections particularly interesting.
“Chihuahua Blues” reminded us a lot of “Rambling On My Mind,” in a pleasing way, and “Dem Devil Bones” is a brisk paced George Thorogood inspired acoustic romp that will have listeners slapping their knees to the beat. “Mississippi On My Mind” is simply great picking, superbly played. “Railroad Blues” is fast paced pickin’ and slidin’ fun. “St. James Infirmary Blues” is a really interesting performance, presented here as a shuffle, and almost upbeat.
Ride The Iron Road is an album best enjoyed when listeners want a break form the loud brashness of an electric blues set, and instead want to enjoy a more quiet and intimate blues experience.
MULLIGAN STEW REVIEWS
American Blues Scene, Barry Kerzner
Yep; get you a heapin’ helping of Franc Robert & The Boxcar Tourists‘ Mulligan Stew. Then, go back for more! This album is a breath of fresh air in a cluttered field of wannabes. It does not pretend to be anything other than good music and a good time. Overall, the album has a Juke Joint feel to it; great music with that back-to-basics, uncluttered sound, and an enthusiastic delivery.
The Boxcar Tourists are Franc Robert on guitars, lap steel, and vocals; Trent Scholl on bass and vocals, and Dave Simmons on drums and vocals. Also along for the ride are Lee Pons on piano and organ, and Smokin’ Joe Sadowski on harp. Roberts has said that the Boxcar Tourists are “kinda musical hobos.” They take us along for an informative and exciting journey on Mulligan Stew. So, let’s dig in.
The album starts off with the lively “Let’s Go Jukin.” This is followed by the hard rocking, foot stomping “Coal Burning Locomotive.” “Beale Street Memories” and “Why Can’t I Be Your Man” have that Memphis soul feel to them: slow, bluesy and soulful, with some nice guitar playing by Robert. “Mulligan Stew” has a country swing feel and some great playing from the whole band. The band also does a really fine job on the acoustic numbers “Lay My Body Down”, The Devil At Your Door”, and “It’s Morning Time.” The playing on these three songs was spot on and very well done. “Ohh Baby” is another foot tapper, and “Your Crying Eyes” is a very smooth blues cut. “Ya Can’t Have Nothin” is a slow, slide guitar feast and “You Worry Me” is more of a shuffle slide piece; both are extremely satisfying. Lee Pons and Smokin’ Joe Sadowski do a fine job throughout on piano and harp, respectively. Also: Some might find Robert’s vocals eerily reminiscent of Bootsy Collins, and it actually works well here.
This album is a good time with some fine playing, and definitely one you want to have in your collection.
Suncoast Blues Society (George Willett)
After his foray into solo performance and recording (Check out the outstanding “Why Do I Never Win”) Franc Robert has moved back to the band format…And brought all his edgy slide guitar touches with him! (And did I mention that he wrote all the songs…and did the cover art and layout too?)
The brash boogie of “Lets go Jukin“will get you into the spirit of the thang…It may be an invitation and it may be a dare! You’ll want to go though, pulled along by Franc’s guitar and old “Back Alley” cohort Smokin’ Joe Sadowski’s harp. “Ohh Baby” has a swampy, John Fogarty-ish feel to it; Franc tears it up on lead guitar while Trent and Dave keep on chooglin’. Fun! If you’re a Blues fan and “Ya Can’t Have Nothin” doesn’t drag you in you better check your pulse because you might be failin’! There’s massive electric slide-guitar of the “J.B. Hutto in slow-Blues trio” school, all underpinning the tale of a life turned sour. That’s all good Blues material but, damn, it’s that guitar and it just rips!
Franc Robert has been a Suncoast Blues Society representative at the International Blues Challenge two (very!) different times now. The first trip was as lead guitarist for the Walker Smith group, and the second was as the solo/duo representative. To shine in both of these very different formats takes deep understanding of the genre and ability as a Blues performer. He’s an original! – George Willett
Billtown Blues Notes
Franc Robert & the Boxcar Tourists are a Florida based band that manages to hit the nail on the head, giving the audience some rockin’ soul-drenched music while holding to the blues. All too often rock and roll bands tend to jump on the blues bandwagon trying to capitalize on the genre’s popularity. The Boxcar Tourists deliver a diverse selection of blues, played from the heart and from their wells of experience. This is the music that has been played in jukes throughout the South on weekends as people would look for a way to cut loose, relieve a little tension and relax after a hard week at work. Top that off with the fact that the band plays material that the crowd can relate to and you have a real winner. The fact that all the tunes on Mulligan Stew are originals, written by Franc Robert adds to the greatness of this recording. The musicianship is outstanding, pouring straight from the heart and, while there is nothing here that made my head spin, the CD is solid as a rock, firmly rooted in the blues and there is more than enough incentive to fill the dance floor. Well deserving of the title Mulligan Stew, there is something here for everybody, regardless of the preference in style. Hard working musicians doing what they love most, what’s not to like? Given the opportunity, go out and catch their performance. It would be my guess that their show would leave the recording, as good as it is, sitting in the dust. Live or on CD, you won’t be disappointed. – Bill Wilson
Franc Robert & The Boxcar Tourists: Mulligan Stew (self released)
I met Franc Robert last year at the IBC’s in Memphis, first saw him sitting jamming away late at night, and he could play that lap steel pretty well. So when I got this release I jumped at it to hear what he would do with a full band of his own.
Straight outta the box he hits the ground running with ‘Let’s Go Jukin”. A tribute to the quality and variety of Blues clubs down in Georgia & Florida he names names and the band rolls and thunders straight through. Smokin Joe Sadowski on harp and Lee Pons tickling those 88′s create a great wall of sound that makes ya wanna jump AirTran and get yourself down there.= to get with the jukin’.
Franc knows the Blues Highway really well. We get a glimpse of riding the rails in ‘Coal Burnin Locomotive’ where we are reminded that no hobos allowed. With a beat and feel of said locomotive but with a Foghat familiarity he sets the rails afire with some nasty slide work over top of the chug-a-chug drum beat of Dave Simmons. Train songs in the Blues can be overdone but not here, this is a honest expose of life on the rails well done by Franc and the band.
The Blues used to rule Memphis town, yeh but now it’s a tad different. Yes there are still Blues in the clubs and some damn fine stuff too, but its not where the money is for a lot of clubs – sad but glad there are still some Blues clubs out there. Mr. Robert addresses this in a sweet Blues number called “Beale Street Memories” lyrics that are a roll-call of the Blues artists that ruled the Memphis streets. Displaying some tasty work on his trusty six-string he cuts a wide path and in doing so opens the clubs and the streets once again to all Blues performers. Nicely done.
The title track is a country flavored swing, chicken lickin’-finger pickin’ call to all to take all of life’s disappointments, troubles and bad times and stick them in that pot of “Mulligan Stew”. Good thought, just don’t eat too much (just sayin’).
In a nice minor blues number ‘Your Crying Eyes’ Franc’s guitar duels with himself as Lee Pons fills the background with some tasty keyboard work.
This all original twelve track release shows us that Mr. Robert is indeed familiar with the road and that it has a place in his blood as a working musician he tells us the story of that life and in doing so helps to find his inner voice. The road is long and he seems capable of handling the twists and turns of that road and progressing nicely in the future.
Blues Underground Network
Franc Robert & the Boxcar Tourists “Mulligan Stew” (USA)
It is now October and as we head into the cooler months, there is really nothing that warms one more than a good hardy stew and when it comes to warming ones ears, there is really nothing better then a hearty serving of “Mulligan Stew”, the super fine release from Franc Robert & the Boxcar Tourists. “Mulligan Stew” marks the 4th release for Franc Robert and the first under the name, Franc Robert & the Boxcar Tourists.
Franc Robert & the Boxcar Tourists are considered the hardest working Blues band in Florida and now after 30+ years of hard grinding, it is all starting to really pay off, as they offer up a gritty blend of what they call Down N’ Dirty Groovy Swampy Blues.
“Mulligan Stew” consists of 12 great Tracks, all written by Franc Robert, that cover a wide swath of territory, from Memphis Blues, Acoustic Blues, Jazzy Blues, Blues Rock, Swampy Steel Guitar Blues, and Beyond. Stepping in as the Boxcar Tourists are the rest of the band which includes, Trent Sholl (Bass/Vocals), and Dave Simmons (Drums/Vocals). Franc Robert is the main Vocalist and also plays Guitars and Lap Steel. For Special Guests on “Mulligan Stew”, they picked a couple of great ones which included, Lee Pons (Piano/Organ) and Smokin’ Joe Sadowski (Harp).
One of the things that quickly caught my attention as I started to listen to “Mulligan Stew”, was the vocals of Franc Robert, which to me sounded a little like Jimi Hendrix, with a slight bit of Lenny Kravitz around the edges. This Vocal quality really matched the music and lyrics to perfection and was a nice treat to hear a set of pipes so intriguing.
For favorites on “Mulligan Stew”, I did not that easy of a time picking the top 3 as this is a heck of a solid album from beginning to end, but never the less here goes…
My first favorite was Track 2 “Coal Burnin’ Locomotive”, a hard driven number, with a feel of Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way”. This is the one that gets you off your seat if you are not already up a groovin from the first Track. Awesome…
My second favorite was the next Track “Beale Street Memories”, a full blown Traditional Memphis Style Blues number. This one has Lee Pons accompanying with great work on the Keys. You could easily imagine this slow yet very intense song, being sung by the Rolling Stones.
The third favorite was the closer, “It’s Morning Time” a beautifully done Acoustic number that really takes no time at all uplifting ones spirit. This one sounds like just Franc and his Guitar, although there may be a slight bit of Bass there as well. A great way to end “Mulligan’s Stew”, that left me with a true feeling of Wow.
Franc Robert & the Boxcar Tourists are a rare group whom have put together a rare album indeed in “Mulligan Stew”, as this is the kind of great music that does not come around that often. I can only imagine how great it would be to play this album when camping around the campfire, as this one just has that right feel to it that can really warm the soul.
5***** for “Mulligan Stew”, a great album from an equally great group of artists.
Highly Recommended and Thoroughly Enjoyed.
Review by John Vermilyea (Blues Underground Network)
Wasser-Prada (German Online magazine)
By Clapton through musical history to traditional Blues sound for Franc Robert’s musical development has declined since the 80s of the 20th Century. With his current band The Boxcar Tourists he presents on “Mulligan Stew” a mixture of blues and acoustic numbers rockendem.
“Let’s Go Jukin ‘- with this number open losgroovenden forward Francesco Roberts and his Boxcar Tourists their” Mulligan Stew “. Being deliberately unclear whether on the 1979 novel by Gilbert Sorrentino at the failure of an author or the improvised meals of American Tramps in the early 20th Century will be played. However, the second version more plausible in view of the musical diversity of the album. The way for the Mulligan all available ingredients of onions, potatoes, bread, stolen chicken and boiled like a pot together, so find here numbers of blues rock a la Texas on slide blues on the National Steel in the succession Son House and Robert Johnson to swinging rhythm & blues and soul blues all have what is necessary for a diverse court = album. And of failure and there is no sound. No, it will be activated by the liver away that you feel sic sometimes even reminiscent of Johnny Winter “Progressive Blues Experience”: This is where musicians kneel with commitment so long in a song, to every single nuance is logical and compelling.
The themes sound like the time of the Hobos, when sung by steam locomotives. But at the same time will prevent any nostalgia: Blues for Robert Franc just not finished story, but a living process of making music. “Mulligan Stew” is not grasp so with geographical positions: Robert comes from Montreal and now lives in Florida. But in the 21st as a blues player Century he has internalized all the regional styles and game show. That he was initially impressed with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Robert Cray, especially in the violent electrical numbers is noticeable. His love of the early Mississippi blues can be felt in songs like “Lay My Body Down”. Overall, “Mulligan Stew” an outstanding album of the year 2012 and can only be recommended highly enough.
“Franc Robert sweats and sways onstage, his nimble fingers dancing along his guitar neck as he moans and howls the blues. It’s still early on a Friday night, but already about 25 blues fans have gathered around the stage in Buckingham Blues Bar. They sip beer as they bob their heads to Robert’s high-energy tunes about love, heartbreak and his “lemon-headed” ex-wife. “This next song fits this bar so perfectly,” says the grinning, ponytailed bluesman from Port Saint Richey. “It’s called ‘Groovin’ on the Outskirts of Town.'””
— Charles Runnells, Ft. Myers News-Press
Franc Robert’s “Why Do I Never Win” is Rock Solid Blues
By Matt Marshall (Published May 2, 2011)
Mind Balm Records has just released Franc Robert’s latest release Why Do I Never Win, a wild mix of rockin’ delta blues-influenced music, with a little intricate finger picking trance-style blues mixed in for good measure. Franc Robert (pronounced Robher) is a Florida blues guitar sensation who’s been artfully playing his brand of blues across the country for decades now. His new album truly shows the depths of his artistic ability.
The first track starts off on a burning hot slide number, with Franc’s just below shouting vocals lending a fantastic immanence to the track about running from one’s demons. The drums kick in with an urgent beat and the album thrusts the listener into Franc’s world, one where the blues, in it’s many forms, lives and thrives. Franc manages to artfully strain all of his blues influences among the tracks within Why Do I Never Win. Albert King influenced guitar work graces “Lemon Headed Girl”, while “Marcie’s Blues” shows off beautiful guitar prowess in a track that would have felt right at home in any of Otis Taylor’s trance-blues albums. “These Blues Is Killin’ Me” is a fantastic hard-rocking blues number about excessive drug use and needing another fix. Franc’s vocals throughout are great, changing to the necessary setting, and his guitar prowess is second to none.
Overall, this Florida musician knows his blues, and isn’t afraid to show you. Listeners will be able to get a full dose of blues styles with a stripped-down sound that gives a raw and powerful thread that binds the album together. This is the third fantastic release from Mind Balm Records, and Franc’s second solo, and with the continuous output of simply good blues music, it will certainly be exciting to experience future albums from both.
Review by Rick Crandall, head of http://www.musictampabay.com
(Appeared in the 12 Bar Rag, the Suncoast Blues Society Newsletter, Sept-Oct. 2010 issue)
Not everyone will like Franc Robert’s style of blues, but those who do, will love him. In fact it’s a good bet a very large contingent of local fans do, including those who go to Walker Smith Group and Delta Aces appearances, or have seen him in the past with the Back Alley Blues Band, or at local appearances yet to come with his latest collective effort called The Boxcar Tourists, which is also the title of one of the tracks on his 2010 CD titled 49×61 – Heartache & Sorrow. Put it all together and what emerges is a collection of nitty gritty, gut wrenching, hard core, deep south blues, evoking images of smoke-filled bars along the Louisiana bayous and Mississippi deltas, or just about anywhere around the Tampa Bay music scene.
This self-released collection that includes a couple of covers, is augmented by 9 showcase original blues ballads by an artist described by the Suncoast Blues Society as an entertainer who “can flat smoke”. Heartache and sorrow never sounded so good. In every track there’s a hint of Muddy Waters vocals mixed with BB King style guitar styling. Franc Robert is 21st century digital age swamp music.
The journey begins with Goin Down South – Grinding along like an old pick-up truck on a country road in Arkansas or Alabama, or maybe just outside Palatka or Bartow. Somewhere along the way the Boxcar Tourist appears out of a side road, cruising along at a nice pace, stroking words through the mic like making love in the back seat of an old Ford coupe. Of course, the object of these affections is Queen of Hearts, a song that Robert released a few years back that has a curious familiarity with an old pop song called Willy and the Hand Jive, but with lyrics that uniquely reveal how love can be like a game of poker, with the Queen of Hearts as the winning card.
Troubles Be On My Mind offers fans a chance to appreciate Robert’s guitar stylings, an instrumental composition with slow, sultry slide finger movements that could easily be the soundtrack for a porno movie, or just for listening while laying back on the beach and catching some Florida sun.
When the track titled Monday Morning Blues comes up, it is easy to imagine listening to BB King playing the lead in this low down & dirty tune with great piano interlude. Words that are familiar to all of us, like “don’t wanna face the morning…stuck again in that traffic jam…almost got crushed…stinking job for low pay… Lord there’s got to be another way”, these are the emotions of life that 49×61 reveal with clarity and force.
Moving to Splitsville changes the pace with rocky, wailing, twangy instrumentation, and Robert’s painful voice evoking the “what goes around comes around” principle when he discover she’s movin’ out, and he’s left out.
Crossroads Stomp – Here is one of Robert’s cover songs displaying his buzz guitar work and wailing vocals that tear up the pavement around the crossroads that lay down the theme of the album, heartache and sorrow. A hard driving percussion keeps this piece moving through the intersection at breakneck speed.
Back Alley Blues is another instrumental, probably a theme song for one of his earlier bands, played with more signature Robert twangy guitar licks that demonstrate his true mastery of the instrument.
Out front, a half dozen guitar styles emerge from the work, ranging from fuzz, to slide, to a lot of twang, and hard driving southern rock & blues. Behind it all is a back alley percussion, which in fact is the backbone of local blues bands, and the title of another track in the CD’s mix. Lyrics like “life is tough baby” and “I’m a ramblin’ man,” , flow like a river through all untamed and raw back alleys of life.